I’d like to consider myself someone who’s open to all styles of art, unique forms of expression and storytelling techniques, but perhaps I have to draw the line at Jean-Luc Godard’s latest, Goodbye to Language. The thing only clocks in at 70-minutes long, but the screening felt like an eternity and even after it finally ended, I was stuck with the frustration of having wasted a morning and was left with a nasty headache to go along with it. This movie is playing in some of the most prestigious film festivals around the world yet has claimed a top spot on my worst of the year list and is pretty high up amongst my worst of all time selections as well.
This should be the point where I tell you what Goodbye to Language is all about, but, in all honesty, I can’t. In fact, the official NYFF website even notes that the film is as “impossible to summarize as a poem by Wallace Stevens or a Messiaen quartet.” Why is that something to brag about? What’s the point in going to see a movie if you can’t understand a single frame of it and take absolutely nothing from it? (Minus that headache.)
It is clear that Godard is trying to say something about our tech-heavy lifestyles and the limits of language, but everything is so haphazardly stitched together, it renders all of his points completely incoherent. One could call a couple the main (human) characters of this movie, but there’s no character building in Goodbye to Language. We don’t know their names and it’s nearly impossible to decipher what they’re after through random shots of the pair naked, talking about philosophy or using the toilet. On the bright side, at least the movie has a cute dog in it.
Making Goodbye to Language even more of a miserable chore is the fact that technically, it’s an experimental mess. At first I thought the theater was having technical issues. The sound was coming from every which direction at distractingly odd volumes, a good deal of the dialogue was missing subtitles and a number of shots were entirely blown out. There’s absolutely no visual consistency in this movie and it makes it uncomfortable to watch. There are just so many outside-the-box qualities you can cram into one movie. If you’re trying to make a statement via an unusual narrative, at least give some stability by running with more traditional imagery rather than a madcap montage format loaded with shots that are so poorly composed and completely dizzying.
There is something interesting about the idea of using the 3D format to allow a viewer to see two different images at the same time. This could be a stretch, but considering the swift rise of 3D and our information overload tendencies, perhaps something like this could make its way into a mainstream movie soon enough. However, after getting a taste of it in Goodbye to Language, I sure hope not.
Even when running with a traditional use of the extra dimension, Godard’s 3D is completely off. If you want a specific object to pop, you can’t have it touching the side of the frame. It’s 3D 101, but Godard breaks that rule time and time again. It’s noticeable and disorienting. But nothing is more disorienting than when, all of a sudden, you come to realize you’re seeing two things at the same time. In order for the trick to work, you’ve got to close one eye to see what’s going on through the other and, admittedly, it is kind of neat, but the gag isn’t conducive to the feature film format by any means.
Sit-back-and-relax movies are great, but I much prefer a movie that requires a degree of effort. Goodbye to Language, however, requires too much and, worst of all, even if you do try your hardest to give the film a shot, appreciate the experimental approach and decipher what Godard’s trying to accomplish, you won’t be rewarded for the hard work at all.
Plus, Goodbye to Language doesn’t even deserve the effort. It isn’t like it’s a well-made film that challenges you to push the limits in an effort to identify some mind-blowing fact, theme or cinematic achievement. It’s a bad movie. It feels as though Godard just went out with a camera as he pleased, shot whatever he wanted, threw in some voiceover, quotes and other nonsense, slapped it all together and called it a movie. At the very least, he could have erased or framed out a very noticeable jib shadow. Leaving it in there is disrespectful to the viewer and anyone who cared to make this a watchable film.
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